I have various memories. I remember being in studio twelve – the big studio – lining the cameras up. We were in colour then. It was for some Christmas spectacular, I think. They did those in August. I was there with the cameras and I turned around and they had a jazz orchestra on the stage, who were rehearsing and producing fantastic music. It was Johnny Dankworth. I turned round, and there at the big, sliding doors was this vision, which was Cleo Laine, with thigh boots up to her shoulders. I remember her walking her in and I thought, my God, that’s a woman with attitude! It made your jaw drop. Then she just hopped on the stage, had a few words with them, and then they kicked off. What a voice she had. I don’t know if she still sings but it was fantastic music. There were only the performers, a few sound engineers and me. You think, what a job. I’m standing here listening to this music.
I was in Studio Two, which was the small news studio. Very often when they did the news they had a musical item at the end, and these four guys game on with electric violins. I’d never seen an electric violin before. I was there, lining up the cameras, and they leapt on the stage. They’d just got their ordinary clothes on – they didn’t have costumes on or anything – and two of them picked their violins up and started playing a Bach Partita. Absolutely stunning music. It was ELO. It was one of their first broadcasts. I had no idea who they were. Of course, when they actually did the show they did their more poppy stuff. But they were superb musicians, and I remember being in the studio, so close to them, while they did this.
I don’t know if you know the name Carlo Curley. He’s an American classical organist. He was touring Britain with this monster organ, which was electronic, but it was valves – that’s how long ago it was. It must have weighed a tonne. They’d got it in studio two, and this huge guy came on, who was almost as big as the organ himself, and, again, played all sorts of wonderful, wonderful music. But the thing I remember about that was he decided, after three or four years of doing it, that he’d change sex. So he became this enormous lady who used to play this organ. But, again, incredible music.
I remember major dramas, when they used to do them in studio twelve. They were amazing. I don’t know if you ever saw them set out the sets. They’d have perhaps ten sets in studio twelve, and I used to just walk through and stand in the rooms. They were set dressed, and as long as you didn’t look up it was so realistic. You were in a different place. That was gobsmacking: to see that and be able to walk through it. I loved doing that.
I remember we had some dancers, from a very rural area of India, called Kathakali dancers. I don’t think they’d ever left India before. Kathakali, I think, is either the name of a village or a very small area. They had these very elaborate gold costumes and they’d paint their faces green with very elaborate makeup. They were dancing in studio twelve, but they gave them studio eight to rehearse in and, also, to cook their curries in. I can’t imagine that being allowed now: flames in studio eight! The place reeked of curries, because they had to have their special food. They’d never left India before and fish and chips was alien to them. We gave them a camera and a monitor so they could practice. They did this amazing face pulling – almost like gurning in Lancashire – but it was all part of the dance, and they’d flap their eyes and things like that. Fascinating. I’ve remembered that, but it must have been thirty years ago.
I remember something else that affected me. In Studio Twelve, we had the English National Ballet in. I was lining cameras up again. They painted the floor white and they had a white cyc round. The dancers themselves were head-to-toe in very tight costumes in black. They came on and danced to Bach’s Grosse Fuge. I don’t know if you know it, but it’s the most amazing piece of music. I was gobsmacked. That was the first time I’d heard the music. I’ve heard it many times since, but it is a stunning piece of music and they did this interpretation. I’m not really into ballet but the way that they interpreted it absolutely blew me away. It was fabulous.
I was talking to Linda about this last night. She always remembers the Christmas specials. They had groups on and things like that. The word would always get upstairs, and people would come down when they were rehearsing and slip in the back of the studios, just to watch different groups. It was fabulous.